Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use
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This case arises from a regulatory dispute involving a hydroelectric project. The project aimed to boost a municipality’s water supply. To obtain more water, the municipality proposed to raise a local dam and expand a nearby reservoir. But implementation of the proposal would require amendment of the municipality’s license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted a discharge permit to the municipality. A group of conservation organizations challenged the Corps’ decision by petitioning in federal district court. While the petition was pending, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission allowed amendment of the municipality’s license to raise the dam and expand the reservoir. The Commission’s amendment of the municipality’s license triggered a jurisdictional question: if federal courts of appeals had exclusive jurisdiction over petitions challenging decisions made by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, did this jurisdiction extend to challenges against the Corps’ issuance of a permit to allow discharges required for the modification of a hydroelectric project licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission? The district court answered yes, but the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. The conservation organizations were challenging the Corps’ issuance of a permit, not the Commission’s amendment of a license. So the statute didn’t limit jurisdiction to the court of appeals. View "Save The Colorado, et al. v. Spellmon, et al." on Justia Law

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In 2018, Garfield County, Utah sought to chip-seal a 7.5-mile portion of the Burr Trail known as the Stratton Segment. Before the County could begin its chip-sealing project, it was legally required to consult with the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) about the project’s scope and impact and obtain BLM’s approval. After doing so, Garfield County completed the project. Soon after Garfield County chip-sealed the Stratton Segment, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and other conservation groups sued BLM and the United States Department of the Interior (“DOI”). Under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), SUWA alleged that BLM had acted arbitrarily and capriciously when approving the chip-sealing project. The district court disagreed and dismissed SUWA’s claims. SUWA raised the same issue on appeal to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Tenth Circuit held that BLM didn’t act arbitrarily and capriciously in informally determining that Garfield County had an R.S. 2477 right-of-way over the Stratton Segment. After reviewing the record, the Court disagreed with SUWA that BLM “purported to” rely on IM 2008-175 in its R.S. 2477 determination. "Instead, BLM properly relied on its authority under our caselaw to informally determine, for BLM’s own purposes, that Garfield County holds its asserted R.S. 2477 right-of-way. Thus, BLM’s decision was not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law." View "Southern Utah Wilderness, et al. v. DOI, et al." on Justia Law

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During excavation of an inactive gold mine in southwestern Colorado, a blowout caused the release of at least three million gallons of contaminated water into Cement Creek. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) conceded its responsibility for the spill and its impacts. The State of New Mexico, the Navajo Nation, and the State of Utah separately filed civil actions, under the Clean Water Act, in New Mexico and Utah against the owners of the mine, the EPA, and the EPA’s contractors. Defendant Environmental Restoration, LLC moved to transfer the Utah case to the District of New Mexico for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings. The United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation granted the motion and centralized proceedings in New Mexico. Later, the Allen Plaintiffs (individuals who farm land or raise livestock along the Animas River or San Juan River) filed a complaint in New Mexico that included state law claims of negligence, negligence per se, and gross negligence. The district court consolidated the Allen Plaintiffs’ suit, including the state law claims, into the Multidistrict Litigation. Defendant Environmental Restoration, LLC moved to dismiss the Allen Plaintiffs’ Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that the Allen Plaintiffs did not file their complaint within Colorado’s two-year statute of limitations and therefore they failed to state a claim. The district court denied the motion to dismiss, reasoning that New Mexico’s three-year statute of limitations applied to the Allen Plaintiffs’ state-law claims. The district court certified the issue for interlocutory appeal. The Tenth Circuit held that the district court had to apply the point source state’s statute of limitations to state law claims preserved under the CWA. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Allen, Jr., et al. v. Environmental Restoration" on Justia Law

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North Mill Street, LLC (“NMS”) owned commercial property in Aspen, Colorado. It sued the City of Aspen and the Aspen City Council (collectively, the “City”) in federal court, alleging the City’s changes to Aspen’s zoning laws and denial of a rezoning application caused a regulatory taking of NMS’s property without just compensation in violation of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The district court concluded NMS’s action was not ripe under Article III of the Constitution because NMS did not obtain a final decision from the City on how the property could be developed. The court thus dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "North Mill Street v. City of Aspen, et al." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was required to conduct an environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it re-opened an area that it had temporarily closed to off-highway vehicles (OHVs) pursuant to its authority under 43 C.F.R. section 8341.2(a). In 2006, the BLM closed a portion of the Factory Butte area in Utah to OHVs due to their adverse effects on the endangered Wright fishhook cactus. The BLM lifted that closure order in 2019 and re-opened the area to OHV use, but did not perform any kind of environmental analysis under NEPA before doing so. Plaintiffs filed suit pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1331, alleging violations of NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The district court disagreed with Plaintiffs' contention and dismissed their complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Natural Resources Defense v. McCarthy" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-Appellants Santa Fe Alliance for Public Health & Safety, Arthur Firstenberg, and Monika Steinhoff (collectively the “Alliance”) brought a number of claims under Section 704 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (“TCA”), New Mexico’s Wireless Consumer Advanced Infrastructure Investment Act (“WCAIIA”), the Amendments to Chapter 27 of the Santa Fe City City Code, and Santa Fe mayor proclamations. The Alliance alleged the statutes and proclamations violated due process, the Takings Clause, and the First Amendment. Through its amended complaint, the Alliance contended the installation of telecommunications facilities, primarily cellular towers and antennas, on public rights-of-way exposed its members to dangerous levels of radiation. The Alliance further contended these legislative and executive acts prevented it from effectively speaking out against the installation of new telecommunications facilities. The United States moved to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), and (b)(6), and the City of Santa Fe moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). The district court concluded that while the Alliance pled sufficient facts to establish standing to assert its constitutional claims, the Alliance failed to allege facts stating any constitutional claim upon which relief could be granted, thus dismissing claims against all defendants, including New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. The Tenth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the Alliance's constitutional claims, finding apart from the district court, that the Alliance lacked standing to raise its takings and due process claims not premised on an alleged denial of notice. Furthermore, the Court held that while the Alliance satisfied the threshold for standing as to its First Amendment and procedural due process claims (premised on the WCAIIA and Chapter 27 Amendments), the district court properly dismissed these claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). View "Santa Fe Alliance v. City of Santa Fe" on Justia Law

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The City of Truth or Consequences converted a community center for senior citizens into a visitor center operated by Spaceport America. A local resident, Ron Fenn, unhappy with this change, publicly protested his opposition over a period of several years. Some of his protests were inside the building and included offensive behavior and unauthorized uses of the facility. Several tenants in the building, including Spaceport Director Daniel Hicks, complained to local law enforcement about Fenn’s behavior and presence at the Center. He was issued three no trespass notices pursuant to New Mexico law over that time. Finally, in June 2017, Fenn was arrested and charged with trespass. The charges were later dismissed. Fenn sued, asserting: (1) a 42 U.S.C. 1983 civil rights claim for First Amendment retaliation against Hicks, arresting officer Michael Apodaca, and Police Chief Lee Alirez; (2) a section 1983 claim for malicious prosecution against Apodaca and Alirez; (3) claims against the City for supervisory liability and under Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978); (4) a section 1983 claim for supervisory liability against Alirez; and (5) a state law claim for malicious abuse of process against Apodaca and Alirez. The district court rejected Fenn’s claims on qualified immunity grounds, and the Tenth Circuit affirmed: the individual defendants were entitled to qualified immunity because no constitutional violation occurred. "And, in the absence of a constitutional violation by Apodaca or Alirez, there is no basis for the Monell and supervisory claims. Finally, the district court correctly dismissed Fenn’s state law claim for malicious abuse of process." View "Fenn v. City of Truth or Consequences" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Robert Allen appealed his conviction for depredation of government property. arguing his conviction violated both the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause and separation of powers principles. Allen also appealed the district court’s restitution order of $20,300, claiming the order included restitution for uncharged conduct, and that the district court erred in applying the procedural framework of the Mandatory Victim Restitution Act (MVRA) by placing the burden on him to disprove the amount of loss contained in the presentence report and by ordering a restitution amount unsupported by evidence. After the parties completed briefing on this case, the government filed a notice of concession, acknowledging that the restitution order was erroneous and suggesting remand for resentencing on restitution. The Tenth Circuit affirmed Allen’s conviction, vacated the district court’s restitution order, and remanded the case to the district court to recalculate restitution. View "United States v. Allen" on Justia Law

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The Pueblos of Jemez, Santa Ana, and Zia resided along the Jemez River at a time when their lands passed from Spanish to Mexican sovereignty, and finally to the United States. In 1983, the United States initiated a water-rights adjudication for the Jemez River Basin, claiming water rights on behalf of the Pueblos. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether the Pueblos' aboriginal water rights were extinguished by the imposition of Spanish authority "without any affirmative adverse act." No matter the method used, the sovereign’s intent to extinguish must be clear and unambiguous; “an extinguishment cannot be lightly implied in view of the avowed solicitude of the Federal Government for the welfare of its Indian wards.” Moreover, “if there is doubt whether aboriginal title has been validly extinguished by the United States, any ‘doubtful expressions, instead of being resolved in favor of the United States, are to be resolved in favor of’ the Indians.” The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court, finding that while "All conquering sovereigns possess authority over their land and resources ... not until the sovereign exercises this authority through clear and adverse affirmative action may it extinguish aboriginal rights." View "United States v. Abouselman" on Justia Law

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Oklahoma City Ordinance 25,777 prohibited standing, sitting, or remaining for most purposes on certain medians. Plaintiffs were Oklahoma City residents, a minority political party in Oklahoma, and an independent news organization. They used medians to panhandle, engage in protests or other expressive activity, mount political campaigns, cover the news, or have personal conversations. After they were no longer able to engage in such activity due to the ordinance, plaintiffs sued Oklahoma City and its chief of police, William Citty, (together, “the City”) alleging violations of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court dismissed plaintiff Trista Wilson’s First Amendment claim; granted summary judgment favoring the City on plaintiffs’ due process vagueness claims; and, following a bench trial, entered judgment against plaintiffs on all other claims. After review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the court’s entry of judgment in favor of the City on plaintiffs’ First Amendment claims; it reversed the dismissal of Wilson’s First Amendment claim; and affirmed on all other claims. View "McCraw v. City of Oklahoma City" on Justia Law